Daniel C. Dennett, the author of Freedom Evolves (Viking Penguin, 2003) and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Simon & Schuster, 1995), is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He was born in Boston in 1942, the son of a historian by the same name, and received his B.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1963. He taught at U.C. Irvine from 1965 to 1971, when he moved to Tufts, where he has taught ever since, aside form periods visiting at Harvard, Pittsburg, Oxford, and the Ecole Normal Superieure in Paris.
His first book, Content and Consciousness, appeared in 1969, followed by Brainstorms (1978), Elbow Room (1984), The International Stance (1987), Consciousness Explained (1991), Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), Kinds of Minds (1996), and Brainchildren: a Collection of Essays 1984-1996 (MIT Press and Penguin, 1998). He co-edited The Mind's I with IU's Douglass Hofstadter in 1981. Dennett is the author of over two hundred scholarly articles on various aspects of the mind, published in journals ranging from Artificial Intelligence and Behavioral and Brain Sciences to Poetics Today and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. He was the Co-founder (in 1985) and Co-director of the Curricular Software Studio at Tufts, and has helped to design museum exhibits on computers for the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science in Boston, and the Computer Museum in Boston.
Dennett has given the John Locke Lectures at Oxford, the Gavin David Young Lectures at Adelaide, Australia, and the Tanner Lecture at Michigan, among many others. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fullbright Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987.
Dennett's career is a model of inter-disciplinarity and scientifically-engaged philosophy. Three major themes in Dennett's work are the power of computational, neuroscientific, and evolutionary approaches to explain the nature of intelligence and mind. Dennett persistently opposes any suggestion that the human mind is mysterious or magical. If consciousness or free will appear to be beyond the range of scientific explanation, we are most likely in the grip of an illusion, he argues. Of course we are conscious and free, Dennett would say, but perhaps not in the sense that we originally thought. Consciousness is explained (or at least eminently explainable) once we dump the illusions.
Professor Dennett is the preeminent example of philosopher as cognitive scientist, and he has inspired many students to look for new ways of engaging philosophy with science. His influence extends far beyond academic philosophy. His books are frequently tackled by reading groups from biology departments to English departments, and they have been widely reviewed in a range of venues, from science journals to general publications such as the New York Review of Books. Dennett's ideas are frequently controversial, but this hardly detracts from his influence upon the intellectual landscape. Recently Dennett has been working on a Darwinian understanding of religious belief, and he has taken an uncompromising position defending atheism in the public arena, including op-ed pieces in the New York Times and a January 2006 interview in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.
Daniel C. Dennett
University Professor and Co-Director, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University